A WHOLE WORLD of vegetables was waiting for me when I arrived at cooking school. I hadn’t grown up with a big variety of vegetables. My father was a meat-and-potatoes guy who liked corn, tomatoes and salad—pretty much in that order. My mother’s repertoire strayed beyond my father’s faves only as far as string beans (steamed with butter) and zucchini (cooked into a cold soup). At cooking school, I quickly became a convert to Brussels sprouts, winter squash, green peas, leeks and more. And for a long time, asparagus was the living end to me, culinarily. My very first article as a fledging food writer was inspired by my near-obsession with the classic asparagus vinaigrette.
Years and many vegetables have come and gone. I still like asparagus, but it’s part of a rotation of many items I love. I felt I had, at least asparagus-wise, seen it all. A few weeks ago I was shopping at Wegmans, where food sampling is part of the experience. That day they were pushing a roast-at-home asparagus and Parmesan cheese kit with basting oil. To make it easier for tasting, they had cut the roasted asparagus into small pieces, about ½- to ¾-inch long. It was such a little thing, but totally transformational. By cutting the asparagus into bite-size pieces, each piece was well seasoned with sweet and nutty Parmesan.
I am huge fan of flavorful food that is easy to make, especially if you can take the idea and apply it widely. This was one of those ideas. I don’t think Wegmans meant for us to cut up the asparagus, but it is nonetheless a great idea.
- You can roast the small pieces of asparagus on a foil-lined sheet pan, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper, in a 375-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes MAX and it is done. (The timing depends on the thickness of the pieces.) Take the pan out of the oven, toss with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and you are in asparagus heaven.
- Mix with pasta and you have dinner.
- Add some chopped garlic before roasting and mix the roasted-garlic-scented asparagus with prepared couscous.
- Add some finely chopped onions and peppers, roast, and mix with chopped herbs and rice for a quick pilaf.
I could go on and on, but try it yourself. This is an easy-to-cook, easy-to-eat food that is full of simple big flavors. It is made with only a few ingredients and it takes 15 minutes to prepare—pretty near perfect in my world. I’m not abandoning grilled asparagus with lemon, or stir-fried asparagus with ginger, or my first love, asparagus vinaigrette, but I’ve got a new favorite.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick